Grass-like Leaves )
Lily Family (Liliaceae)
Habitat: Open Areas
Height: Up to 1.5 m
Description: No other plant resembles the beargrass with its large white flower clusters and its tall character. The linear leaves form dense basal clumps and were a useful source of fibre for weaving, clothing and the making of rope.
Flower: The large dense flower heads (raceme) are made up of a tight collection of 6-petaled, star-like flowers. The clusters are 10-40 cm long and resemble a classic bottle-brush, being thicker near the tip of the plant and narrower towards the base of the flower cluster. Each individual flower is cream coloured or white, and 1.5 cm across with six distinctive stamens.
Leaf: The leaves form a dense basal clump, and becoming less prominent as you move upwards along the stem. They are very linear in shape, 20-40 cm (up to 90 cm in the moist habitat of the west coast of British Columbia) with a roughly toothed margin. The grass-like leaves are usually a 1.5 to 5 mm in width.
Fruit/Seed: The flowers give way to a dry, three part capsule 5-7 mm long. Each capsule contains 2-5 seeds.
Range: This unique plant is common in the southern Canadian Rockies, east to the Pacific coast and south to Montana, Idaho and California.
Bear-grass was heavily used by first nations people as an excellent source for fibre and weaving material. The leaves could be pounded to remove the fibres, and the entire leaves were very useful for making capes and baskets. The high quality of this fibre plant was reflected in its value for trade. Native Canadians living in the mountains traded the leaves to other tribes living outside of the plants range. The dyed leaves were useful for making very colourful designs in the woven materials.
The plant is also fire adapted. It sprouts from rhizomes beneath the surface. This allows it to survive all but the hottest fires, resprouting shortly after the flames flicker out. The plants are eaten by deer and elk, and the thick grasses are occassionally used by grizzly bears as nesting material in their dens.
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